The best independent guide to Lisbon
The best independent guide to Lisbon
Alcântara is a diverse and fascinating district, which reflects the modern transformation and blossoming of Lisbon.
The district comprises of two very different areas - a former industrial zone that lies in the valley beneath the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge, and a prosperous residential area further up the hill.
The once-bleak industrial area has now been transformed into one of the trendiest parts of Lisbon, with the Lx Factory artisan and creative hub at its centre. Lx Factory was converted from a derelict textiles factory, and today is packed with art studios, unique shops and trendy bars, all surrounded by fascinating examples of urban art.
Urban art in Lx Factory
The influx of creative people into the area has made Alcântara one of the most desirable areas of the city, with its abandoned buildings being turned into luxurious apartments and ultra-modern office complexes. This transformation includes the “Docas” waterfront of Alcântara, where former warehouses now house fashionable restaurants and bars overlooking an exclusive marina.
The diversity of Alcântara valley is seen in the eclectic mix of people who live and work here. There are artists, smartly-dressed businesspeople, laptop-wielding digital nomads, older Portuguese nationals and wealthy foreign investors (with their Golden Visa apartments), all happily mixing in the same cafes and restaurants. If you want to experience modern Lisbon, this is the place to be.
The valley area of Alcântara may be rapidly changing, but the district retains its authentic Portuguese heart within the residential streets further up the hill. This was historically a prosperous area of the city, where wealthy 19th-century people would live to escape the issues of the inner city. Found in the streets are grand villas, the Pestana Palace Lisboa (one of the finest hotels in Lisbon), the pretty Santo Amaro chapel, and the bustling Largo do Calvário plaza.
Alcântara still retains its Portuguese atmosphere and character. This is the Calçada da Tapada, one of the main streets of Alcântara
Further to the north is Parque Florestal de Monsanto, a sprawling park and forest that is affectionately known as "the lungs of Lisbon". Here you will find many scenic walks and wonderful viewpoints, such as the Miradouro do Bairro do Alvito. On the eastern side of the Alcântara valley (technically part of the Estrella district, but close to Alcântara) is the tranquil Tapada das Necessidades park and grand Palácio das Necessidades.
Alcântara is diverse and captivating, but the area is rarely fully explored by tourists. When they do visit, it is often just to see Lx Factory. This is a real shame, as Alcântara is one of the most varied and interesting districts of Lisbon.
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Ponte 25 de Abril – The magnificent suspension bridge that spans the Tejo Estuary and towers above the Alcântara district. While exploring the valley area of Alcântara, you will hear the distinctive hum of traffic crossing the bridge.
The view of the Ponte 25 de Abril from the Jardim Docas da Ponte
Lx Factory – The original artisan area of Lisbon, packed with unique shops, trendy bars and provocative modern art. Its once-edgy artisan vibe may be fading as Alcântara slowly becomes more gentrified, but trendy shops such as the Ler Devagar Bookshop mean it's always worth visiting.
Capela de Santo Amaro – A unique, round chapel that stands atop a hill overlooking Alcântara. Inside the chapel are beautiful 17-century tile paintings, while from the terrace is one of the finest views of the Tejo Estuary.
Docas – The former warehouse of the Santo Amaro Docks now houses high-end restaurants and designer bars that overlook the exclusive marina complex. This is a stylish destination for lunch or an evening meal.
Alcântara is one of those destinations where you can spend as long as you like, as there is always something new to see here.
A simple visit would involve around two hours of sightseeing. This could include the Lx Factory, the Docas, a walk along the waterfront (the Jardim Docas da Ponte), then an uphill walk to the Capela de Santo Amaro and viewpoint, before returning to the Largo do Calvário for the tram back to central Lisbon.
If you're into museums, you may want to include the Museu do Oriente, Museu da Carris (the tram museum) and the Macau Museum. For a longer visit, you also could walk along the waterfront to the MAAT museum and its amazing viewpoint.
The view from the top of the MAAT museum
For a more relaxing trip (and to escape the hecticness of central Lisbon) you could visit the peaceful gardens of the Tapada das Necessidades Palace or the southern side of Monsanto park, or enjoy a hike up to the Bairro do Alvito viewpoint.
An alternative trip, where you can experience the authentic Portuguese side of Alcântara, is to wander the pretty streets around the Jardim Avelar Brotero and the Pestana Palace Lisboa.
Below is an interactive map for a suggested tour of the Alcântara district. The tour begins and ends at the Largo do Calvário, which is the best tram stop for the district.
Key 1) Largo do Calvário 2) Lx Factory 3) Ler Devagar bookshop 4) Pilar 7 (Suspension bridge museum and viewing platform) 5) Museu do Oriente 6) Docas 7) Ponte 25 de Abril 8) Jardim Docas da Ponte 9) MAAT museum and viewpoint (optional) 10) Museu da Carris (tram museum) 11) Capela de Santo Amaro 12) Pestana Palace Lisboa hotel 13) Jardim Avelar Brotero 14) Largo das Necessidades viewpoint 15) Palácio das Necessidades (not open to the public) 16) Tapada das Necessidades park 17) Miradouro do Bairro do Alvito viewpoint
The Palácio das Necessidades and the Largo das Necessidades
A trip to the Alcântara district is often combined with a visit to the Belem district, as both lie on the western side of Lisbon and are next to each other. It is advisable to begin with Belem, as it has many more of the famous sights of Lisbon (such as the Torre de Belém, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos) and can get very crowded with tourists between 11am and 3pm. We would also suggest having lunch in Alcântara, as the restaurants in Belem can be extremely busy in the peak season.
Insight: If you have the time, it is a scenic walk along the riverfront from Belem to Alcântara. This 2.5km walk from the Padrão dos Descobrimentos to the Docas in Alcântara passes the MAAT viewpoint (point 9 on the map) and the old power station, as well as providing wonderful views of the Ponte 25 de Abril.
Ler Devagar, one of the world’s quirkiest bookshops, is housed in a former printing press
Experiência Pilar 7 is a museum about the construction of the Ponte 25 de Abril. It has a lift (the grey structure in the centre of the image) to the road level of the bridge and a fantastic viewing platform
The best way to travel to Alcântara is by the E15 tram. This tram departs from the Praça da Figueira (in the Baixa district) and stops in Praça do Comércio and at the Cais do Sodré train station.
The best Tram stop for Alcântara is at "Calvário", which is on the Largo Calvário plaza. From here, it is a short walk south (170m) to the entrance of Lx Factory.
A single ticket purchased on the tram will cost €3, but a much better idea is to purchase the 24-hour unlimited public transport ticket for €6.80. Unfortunately, this ticket can only be purchased from a metro station ticket machine/office.
Warning: Highly skilled pickpockets frequently plague the packed trams of Lisbon. When travelling on a busy tram, always hide valuables and use the same common sense as you would back home.
Alcântara is not connected to the metro network, so the tram is the only real option. A taxi will cost €5-6 from Praça do Comércio to Alcântara.
The E15 tram
In the mid-1990s, the valley section of Alcântara was awful, being filled with abandoned industrial units and blighted with drugs and prostitution. The area did have an edgy artisan scene, as its crumbling warehouses and lack of housing made it an ideal location for nightclubs and venues where few questions were asked. Today, the warehouse nightclubs are less risky and have moved eastwards into Santos.
The rehabilitation of the Docas waterfront in 1995 didn't do much to improve the area, mainly because it is separated by the railway. The significant change came in 2007 when an abandoned factory close to the Alcantara-Terra train station was converted into the Lx Factory creative centre.
The foundation of Lx Factory coincided with a revival of Lisbon, and the area gradually became a trendy, hipster destination – further boosted by the opening of Village Underground in 2014. The following years from 2015 to 2017 saw the height of the artisan scene in Alcântara, when it was relatively cheap and saw an influx of creative people into the area.
A very apt mural on a wall in Lx Factory, with the suspension bridge in the background
With the district becoming more fashionable, developers realised its potential, and the rehabilitation of the district changed into gentrification. Apartments designed for Golden Visa tourists were built, huge office blocks were constructed and walls of urban art were painted over. Even the trend-setting Lx Factory site was sold in 2017 to a corporation of French investors, and since tourist-focused shops have started to appear.
The gentrification of the district has made Alcântara a fantastic destination for tourists, as it's clean, safe and has lots to see and do. However, the urban cool has moved to other areas of the city, such as Beato and Marvila.
As with many Portuguese place names, the "Al" symbolises a location derived from an Arabic word (Al equates to "the"), with the "cântara" section originating from the Arabic word "al-qantara”, meaning "the bridge". The bridge part refers to the Roman bridge that crossed the Alcântara valley and river, where the Alcantara-Terra train station is situated today.
Lx factory is the main tourist attraction of Alcântara. It is well worth spending an hour or so exploring its many varied shops, stalls and restaurants.
The site was originally a textiles factory, the Companhia de Fiação e Tecidos Lisbonense, which began operation here in 1847. After many industrial uses, the site was abandoned by the late 1990s. Lx Factory, created in 2007, repurposed the buildings to form creative studios and artisan shops, kick-starting the hipster transformation of the area. Found within the complex are some fantastic urban art creations, graffiti art and bold design murals.
The Ler Devagar Bookshop, housed in a former printing press, is always a highlight, but wandering the quieter upper floors and discovering the niche artisan businesses is also enjoyable.
Every Sunday, Lx Factory hosts a market of varied art and craft stalls, known as the Lx Market.
The main street in Lx Factory – during your visit to explore the upper levels of the main building (the grey one to the rear of the image)
The Museu da Carris
The Museu da Carris details the history of public transport in Lisbon, with a focus on the trams - as the museum is based in the old tram depot. Carris has been the public transport company of Lisbon since 1872, and the range of vehicles on show include horse-drawn trams, funiculars, early 20th-century electric trams and more recent models. The first section exhibits historical documentation and pictures (and is only for real enthusiasts), while the second section, which is reached via a 1901 tram, displays many colourful and classic trams. The entrance fee is €4.50. museu.carris.pt/
Museu do Oriente
The Museu do Oriente is dedicated to the art and culture of East Asia and is related to the heritage of Portuguese culture in Asia. The museum houses an extensive collection of over 1,640 artefacts from China, Japan and India. This is a wonderful museum if you are interested in Asian history and art.
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